We all know of someone who seems to accomplish anything, they seem to have an unlimited amount of willpower and a desire to achieve like no other. This person may be your friend, co-worker, or someone you follow on social media. However, they are no different than you and I. They have insecurities, doubts and fears. So what is there secret and why are they more motivated to succeed than others? I believe there superpower is their ability to stay focused on one goal at a time and there is research to back up this claim. Emily Balcetis a social psychologist from NYU recently gave a TED talk on motivation and how focusing on the finish line can improve your success with exercise.

Why do some people struggle more than others to keep off the pounds? Social psychologist Emily Balcetis shows research that addresses one of the many factors: Vision. In an informative talk, she shows how when it comes to fitness, some people quite literally see the world differently from others - and offers a surprisingly simple solution to overcome these differences.

Emily and her team tested whether or not focusing on one specific task can shifts one’s perception of an environment and improve exercise behavior. (1) The authors found that the participants who adopted a narrow focus compared to the group who didn’t, perceived the target to be closer. Furthermore, the narrow focus group performed the task faster and found it easier to perform compared to the other group. (1) Emily Balcetis explained, “These findings indicate that narrowly focusing visual attention on a specific target, like a building a few blocks ahead, rather than looking around your surroundings, makes that distance appear shorter, helps you walk faster, and also makes exercising seem easier.”  

Narrowing your focus on one thing is not just limited to exercise, we can use this technique to every goal we want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on everything at once, we need to break it down into small chunks so we can process it easily and not get distracted. Millions of people have used this strategy to accomplish amazing feats. The human species is the most adaptable species on this earth and when focused on a goal they can accomplish anything. Even Steve Jobs, who is the epitome of success believes this: “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” However, simple doesn’t always mean it is easy. It may sound easy on paper, but it is extremely challenging to focus on just one thing. Usually our focus and attention are constantly wandering.Technology has made this challenging by shortening our attention span and increasing our desire for gratification. We no longer have the patience we once had because of this, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve it through proper training. 

To improve your ability to focus on one goal at a time you must understand the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands). Put simply, this principle states that whatever you do you will become better at it. If you let your mind wander and be distracted then you will always have a wandering mind. But if you are able to focus your mind on one thing at a time then you will become better and better at focusing on one thing. We see this principle firsthand in the gym during resistance training. You perform a number of repetitions with a given weight until fatigue sets in. If you continue this process for a month the exercise will become easier and easier. It is important to understand that how you get stronger in the gym is the same way you increase your focus; repetition after repetition. If you want to have a stronger mind and be more focused then you must practice this skill. You must practice focusing on just one thing and nothing else, which is why I recommend meditation (read more). The strategy is simple, start small and focus on one goal at a time for 10 minutes straight. During the ten minutes you need to be focused on just one thing and have no distractions which means no cell phone or social media. After the 10 minutes take a 2 to 3 minute break. Repeat this cycle three to four times for the hour or until you reach your goal for that day. Perform this routine for a month until you can focus on one thing for ten minutes without distraction. Over the month’s time you will find it easier and easier to focus on one thing.

 Example:  Writing Emails

  • 10 minutes

  • 2-3 minute break

  • Repeat 3 to 4 times

 Another way to perform this strategy is to focus on one exercise at a time instead of the whole workout. “People are less interested in exercise if physical activity seems daunting, which can happen when distances to be walked appear quite long,” explained Emily Balcetis. Therefore, if you are struggling to stay focused then it is imperative that you break your goals down into small chunks so that it easier to focus on one thing at a time. I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors Paulo Coelho, “Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”